Sales enquiries: 0844 891 3111

RAC

Alfa Romeo Spider range

Introduction

June Neary checks out Alfa's Spider

Will It Suit Me?

Whenever I think of Italy, I think of passion, pizza, pasta, Pisa and Pininfarina. Which is actually quite fitting, because the Alfa Romeo Spider is a car designed with passion by Pininfarina for those who like stylish roadsters. From their point of view, if there's power and loads of it, a glorious engine note and a fold-away hood, you're halfway there. Throw in the sensual Alfa styling and a beautifully-trimmed interior and you have something that really looks like fun to cruise around in. It appeals to me already. The Spider is aiming itself at Audi TT and Mercedes SLK convertible buyers, but it beats both of these cars on price. With the summer beckoning at the time of my test, it seemed like the right moment to fold the hood down and get to grips with Alfa's stylish drop-top.

Practicalities

Let's get one thing straight - you won't buy the Spider as your only car unless you're an ambitious thirty-something with no fixed plans on marriage or offspring. If it were anything other than a two-seater with laughable luggage space, it wouldn't be the roadster that it is. From one perspective at least, the car begins with a head start. Women who enjoy driving will love this car - and that's important. By the year 2010, so the statisticians tell us, there will be as many women drivers on Britain's roads as men. Current thinking suggests them to be more open-minded, more fashion-orientated and less badge conscious, so they are liable to love the Spider with its funky styling, luxurious leather interior and drop-top desirability.

Behind the Wheel

The Alfa Spider is a fun drive. Granted, the chassis didn't feel as rigid as Teutonic contemporaries and the controls weren't as obvious as they might be, but that couldn't detract from the ambience of the cabin. Despite the new design, it still doesn't appear quite cutting edge but there's an elegance to it that's deliciously appealing. The red carpet contrasting with the blue interior on my test car was classic and timeless. The Spider's interior retains the by now almost obligatory Alfa sense of occasion. With plenty of metallic finishes to lift the fascia and driver-oriented instruments, the design also makes a nod or two to tradition. How many other cars still retain an oil temperature gauge? The Spider has and it's a welcome touch. There's a voguish starter button and minor controls on the steering wheel. With plenty of adjustment in both the seat and the steering column, even taller drivers will easily find a comfortable driving position. On the road, the 1750 TBi engine I tried feels gutsy at low revs, but Alfa Romeo driving isn't about chugging about with the needle barely registering above tickover. Instead, the needle should be zinging up to the redline, the engine filling the cabin with all manner of yowls, crackles and fizzes. Here TBi is up to the job, doing sterling work in the midrange and sounding pretty good when really given the treatment. The electrically operated fabric roof is quite an installation, the five-layer system insulating the cabin from wind and road noise while also offering excellent thermal insulation properties - so often a bugbear of convertible cars. The soft top's additional electric motors and chassis bracing adds around 60kg to the kerb weight of an equivalent Alfa Brera coupe but when the focus isn't on ultimate dynamics, this isn't so much of an issue. The penalty for enjoying the fresh air is the removal of the rear seats you'd find on the Brera coupe that this car is based upon. Still, these vestigial items were really only any good for slinging a bag onto. Practicality isn't a Spider strong point, the boot holding a rather mean 235 litres although the roof doesn't impinge on that capacity when folded down. On the plus side, there are some cubbies instead of rear seats that keep your belongings safe and sound.

Value For Money

On the basis of the amount of style you get for your money, the Spider looks decent value next to the Audi TT and Nissan 370Z but it's less convincing if you're after performance and driving thrills. If you're not all about cornering a car on its door handles, then this makes a very interesting choice. There is also the choice of a manual or Q-tronic gearbox.

Could I Live With One?

For sheer driving passion, definitely. But life isn't always about passion. Since my husband doesn't drive, this would be the only car in the household and there is no way that I could get all the shopping in there. On second thoughts, maybe I should have the groceries delivered.

Judging the Alfa Spider merits some real world perspective. Buying a convertible like this is not a process of cold, hard logic. Most will not sit down with a car magazine data table and compare luggage space, miles per gallon figures or CO2 emissions. Nor will they leaf through the enthusiast press to read about the car's scuttle shake and understeer at the limit. It's all vaguely irrelevant. Cars like this sell on how they look and how they make the driver (and, if we're honest, onlookers) feel and the Alfa Spider scores close to bullseye in that regard. It's better looking than most of its immediate rivals, it possesses an illustrious bloodline and a badge oozing with character, and, best of all, it's not a car that takes itself too seriously. It's just a piece of fun, a guilty indulgence. On that level, you have to say it works. Beautifully.

Judging the Alfa Spider merits some real world perspective. Buying a convertible like this is not a process of cold, hard logic. Most will not sit down with a car magazine data table and compare luggage space, miles per gallon figures or CO2 emissions. Nor will they leaf through the enthusiast press to read about the car's scuttle shake and understeer at the limit. It's all vaguely irrelevant. Cars like this sell on how they look and how they make the driver and, if we're honest, onlookers, feel and the Alfa Spider scores close to bullseye in that regard. The entry-level 185bhp 2.2-litre car has been a big seller, its junior exotic looks and charismatic engine give it some real personality. The batton might well have passed to the 1750TBi though. This is a 198bhp 1.7-litre turbocharged engine with some extremely advanced features. The 0-60mph sprint takes just 7.8s which is a second up on what the old 2.2-litre can do. The compromise models get diesel power. It's still not a popular choice in roadsters but the Spider has a couple of options with a view to changing that. A 2.0 JTDm unit opens proceedings with 168bhp and a 0-60mph time of 9.0s. The 2.4-litre diesel has 207bhp and will top 142mph yet still zip to 60mph in under 8 seconds. The range-topping Spider variant is the storming 3.2-litre all-wheel-drive Q4. It's better looking than most of its immediate rivals, it possesses an illustrious bloodline and a badge oozing with character, and, best of all, it's not a car that takes itself too seriously. It's just a piece of fun, a guilty indulgence. On that level, you have to say it works. Beautifully.

Lopping the roof off a coupe rarely does it many favours. Often the proportions go to pot, the chassis gets an attack of the vapours when shown a corner and any semblance of practicality goes right out of the window. Given that the prime objective of most convertibles is to look fantastic, losing the proportions is inexcusable. The other two we can work around but thankfully Alfa Romeo has got things spot on when it comes to their Spider. Let's cut straight to the chase. If you're looking for a driver's car along the lines of a Porsche Boxster or a Nissan 370Z Roadster, the Spider isn't going to leave you wholly impressed. It just can't match these titans in terms of go, stop and steer. If for you however, the drop top experience is not so much about driving the tread off the tyres and more about aesthetics, feel-good tactility and savouring the journey, the Spider can't fail to impress. If you haven't driven a contemporary Alfa Romeo, you might be in for a bit of a surprise with this car. Drop into the cabin and you'll find it hard to escape the conclusion that this convertible is better screwed together than many so-called premium German rivals. The paint finish, the panel fit, the materials quality and the simple but elegant design of the cabin all score big points. The roof mechanism may not feature a trendy folding hard top but such a system would not only compromise its bonny lines but would also tack quite a bit onto an already rather beefy kerb weight figure. The entry-level 185bhp 2.2-litre car has been a big seller, its junior exotic looks and charismatic engine give it some real personality. The batton might well have passed to the 1750TBi though. This is a 198bhp 1.7-litre turbocharged engine with some extremely advanced features. The 0-60mph sprint takes just 7.8s which is a second up on what the old 2.2-litre can do. The compromise models get diesel power. It's still not a popular choice in roadsters but the Spider has a couple of options with a view to changing that. A 2.0 JTDm unit opens proceedings with 168bhp and a 0-60mph time of 9.0s. The 2.4-litre diesel has 207bhp and will top 142mph yet still zip to 60mph in under 8 seconds. The range-topping Spider variant is the storming 3.2-litre all-wheel-drive Q4. The Spider's interior retains the by now almost obligatory Alfa sense of occasion. With plenty of metallic finishes to lift the fascia and driver-oriented instruments, the design also makes a nod or two to tradition. How many other cars still retain an oil temperature gauge? The Spider has and it's a welcome touch. There's a voguish starter button and minor controls on the steering wheel. With plenty of adjustment in both the seat and the steering column, even taller drivers will easily find a comfortable driving position. It would be easy to be hard on the Spider, decrying it as a car that can't face down its rivals on an objective basis, instead relying on woolly notions of perceived desirability and charisma. To do so is to miss the point of this car. Convertibles tend not to be bought for entirely pragmatic reasons and the best looking cars usually sell. Although it might get sniffed at in the pages of evo magazine, I have a suspicion that real world buyers are going to find the Spider right up their street. STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front, side and knee airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, ABS with brake assist

Scores
Performance 6
Handling 5
Comfort 8
Space 6
Styling 8
Build 7
Value 5
Equipment 8
Economy 6
Depreciation 6
Insurance 7
Total 72
Breakdown Cover
Choose a level of cover from just £29.99 a year
Breakdown Cover_img Join here